Blog Directory CineVerse: Very Cary, auspiciously Audrey, but essentially Alfred

Very Cary, auspiciously Audrey, but essentially Alfred

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Any filmmaker who has attempted to outdo Alfred Hitchcock in the suspense/thriller department, or slavishly imitate his style, has usually failed. But not always. One shining example of a Hitchcockian film that you might swear was directed by the Master himself if you didn't know any better is Charade, a 1963 outing helmed by Stanley Donen, which fits neatly within the Hitchcock canon in multiple ways. We counted those ways last week during our CineVerse meeting and discussed the following:

Other films and works that Charade makes us think of

  • Hitchcock thrillers like North by Northwest and To Catch a Thief as well as Vertigo
  • James Bond spy thrillers of the time, including Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger
  • Once Upon a Time in the West
  • 1960s stylish crime comedies and romantic thrillers, especially ones set in foreign countries, such as Arabesque, How to Steal a Million, Mirage, and The Pink Panther
  • Agatha Christie’s And Then There Was None

This film has been hailed as the greatest Hitchcock picture not made by Hitchcock himself. How does this movie look and feel like a Hitchcock film?

  • It casts Cary Grant, who starred in four outstanding films for Hitchcock: North by Northwest, To Catch a Thief, Notorious, and Suspicion.
  • It uses the theme of the wrong man suspected of a crime or act that he (in this case, a woman) did not commit, which Grant played to perfection four years earlier in North by Northwest. It also employs two other common Hitchcock themes: deception and duplicity.
  • It features a MacGuffin—a device that motivates the characters but which doesn’t matter much to the overall story or our satisfaction with the movie. Here, the MacGuffin is the missing $25,000, which later turns out to be three rare stamps.
  • It deftly balances the Hitchcock blend of suspense, black comedy, intrigue, and romance between two attractive leads.
  • It’s set and filmed in a romantic and picturesque location—in this case Paris—similar to how Hitchcock filmed To Catch a Thief in the south of France and showcased all the lavish facets of that country. Here, as in many Hitchcock films, our characters also interact with or observe popular landmarks, such as Notre Dame, Champs-Élysées, and the Palais Royale. Hitchock reveled in featuring American landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Rushmore, and the Statue of Liberty in some of his movies.
  • The opening titles are reminiscent of visually arresting and textually animated openings for Vertigo and Psycho.
  • Aping Hitchcock, there’s even a cameo by the director, Stanley Donen, who appears, opposite the film’s screenwriter, in one of the elevator scenes.
  • Unlike most Hitchcock films, however, this one infused more comedic and cutesy elements into the story, which created a more lighthearted tone. This tone would be more consistent with a latter Hitchcock work like Family Plot or, to some degree, The Trouble With Harry.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, or surprisingly different about Charade?

  • It can quickly turn from light and funny to dark and disturbing. One moment we’re enjoying a chuckle-inducing scene between Grant and Hepburn and a few scenes later we are shown the victim of a brutal murder (such as a man drowned, a man with his throat cut, and another man who has been asphyxiated with a plastic bag).
  • There’s a lot more action, perhaps, than you’d expect in this film, especially action demanded of Grant’s character, despite the actor and the character being in his late fifties. Peter has to grapple acrobatically with a hook-handed hulk, run full bore in pursuit of Regina, and engage in a nimble shootout with Hamilton.
  • The casting is impressive, considering the presence of Walter Matthau, James Coburn, and Oscar winner George Kennedy in addition to Hepburn and Grant.
  • Criterion Collection essayist Bruce Eder wrote: “Charade occupies a special place among sixties thrillers. In an era of spy films resplendent with macho-driven eroticism (the James Bond series), cynicism (Michael Caine’s Harry Palmer series), or farcical irreverence (Casino Royale; the Flint movies, with Charade costar James Coburn), it was the only successful take on the genre to place a woman at its center.”

Other films directed by Stanley Donen

  • On the Town
  • Royal Wedding
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • Seven Brides for Seven Brothers
  • Funny Face
  • The Pajama Game
  • Damn Yankees
  • Indiscreet

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